Room for hope

JOHN SHORT -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:44 AM ET

The good news is that standardbred and thoroughbred horsemen have become friendlier rivals in recent years.

They aren't quite bosom buddies, but both sides have become more professional in their approach to compromise.

For many years, harness racers did most of the giving but, in preparation for this season, thoroughbred leaders agreed to shorten their season, leaving more room for the standardbreds.

BREATHING ROOM

Les Butler, the Edmonton Northlands executive in charge of racing and gaming, says the recent improvement in co-operation between the rival breeds gives room for optimism although the long-awaited Balzac project has been put on hold once again.

"Obviously, time is needed to solve the problem," said Butler. "No question, the best solution for our industry would be to get the track in the Calgary area into construction and into operation as quickly as possible."

Horse Racing Alberta's chairman, Dr. David Reid, continues to negotiate on issues surrounding the Balzac project and to find ways to accommodate the needs of both breeds.

With Calgary's Stampede Park committed to moving away from racing as a regular attraction, serious concerns have been expressed about next year's dates at Northlands.

"We're left with only one A track in Alberta," Butler said, pointing out that conditioning of horses uses a great deal of track time.

Grande Prairie and Lethbridge have been valuable B tracks.

Theoretically, it's possible to conduct a year-round racing meet in Edmonton, he said, although thoroughbreds are not genetically capable of competing seriously beyond the warm-weather window from April to October.

The response of harness horsemen to the Grande Prairie and Lethbridge meets this year will do much to clarify the 2008 racing picture.


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